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Updated: 11-Mar-2004

SHAPE News Morning Update

11 March 2004

  • U.S. eyes North Africa for military training
  • NATO assures Baltic states on air defense despite Russian concerns
  • Danish government presents plan for defense reform to tackle more foreign assignments and terror


  • President Karzai calls on stretched NATO for election back-up


  • NATO debates handover of Bosnia force to EU


  • Belarus begins destroying largest mine arsenal of countries to ratify anti-mine convention


  • Washington is eyeing North African nations as potential military training grounds but has no plans to establish bases there as part of its revamp of forces based overseas. General James Jones, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, told reporters that Morocco and Tunisia could provide the kind of airspace that has become scarce in the United States and Europe because of urbanisation and environmental concerns. “There’s a lot of work we have been doing in North have access to skies, unrestricted,” he told reporters at NATO’s military headquarters in Belgium. Gen. James Jones, who is also NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said the political and diplomatic contacts which the U.S.-led alliance has had with North African nations for the past decade could be beefed up to include military-to-military cooperation. “I am impressed by the potential of future relationships, especially with Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia who are very active in cooperating in the war on terrorism,” he said. The general said he was concerned about failed sub-Saharan countries and the risk that they become refuges for guerrillas “who have run out of hiding room” in Iraq or Afghanistan. (Reuters 101836 GMT Mar 04)

  • NATO’s top commander, General James Jones, on Wednesday assured Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that they will receive full protection under the alliance’s military umbrella when they join this month, despite Russian concerns over any extension of allied air defences. Gen. James Jones said plans drawn up by NATO’s military would ensure that “we have things in place to provide for the security of 26 nations of the alliance, and that includes air defense.” NATO officials say plans expected to be approved by alliance governments in the next few days would likely include stationing fighter planes from western European nations in the Baltic states - probably at the former Soviet air base at Saiuliai, Lithuania. Gen. James Jones stressed any move to protect Baltic air space would not be directed at Russia. “It’s not threatening. It’s purely defense, but it has to apply to the (whole) alliance,” he told reporters. The Baltic states were expected to receive further reassurance from NATO’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on a tour of the three nations starting on Wednesday night in Latvia. (AP 101806 Mar 04)

  • The Danish government presented a defense reform proposal that aims to enable the military to participate in more international assignments, and to better fight terrorism. The reform would double the number of troops the Scandinavian country can dispatch on international missions to 2,000. Under the government’s plan, Denmark would reduce the compulsory military draft to three months from the current up to 12 months. But the reform also gives draftees a duty to serve in case of terror attacks or environmental disaster in Denmark for a three-year period. The plan also would close four military facilities, and scrap two brigades and 180 army tanks. It includes the purchase of three new small submarines to replace its three aging subs. (AP 101603 Mar 04)


  • NATO’s struggle to find extra resources for its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan was compounded on Wednesday after President Karzai requested alliance troops as a security back-up for June’s elections. The call came ahead of a conference on Thursday at which defence officials from NATO’s 19 nations will start pooling troops, helicopters and other equipment to establish civilian-military reconstruction teams in two northern towns. The alliance’s top soldier, U.S. General James Jones, told reporters he was preparing to make “aggressive” demands to widen the net of the Kabul-based operation. “I can only say that we will work it as aggressively as we possibly can,” he said. Explaining that the force generation process was more than “passing a tin cup around,” he promised to challenge countries with the right capabilities to offer them for Afghanistan. (Reuters 101700 GMT Mar 04)


  • NATO and the EU discussed plans on Wednesday for the EU to take over the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia by the end of this year. Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy representative, said NATO would retain a “residual role” after the changeover, helping with the hunt for war crimes suspects and possible terrorist threats. The alliance is also expected to provide emergency assistance in case it’s required by an EU force expected to total around 7,000. Mr. Solana and NATO Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer denied reports of tensions between the two organizations on plans for the handover. (AP 101836 Mar 04)


  • Belarus began on Wednesday destroying its millions of anti-personnel mines, the most of any nation that has ratified an international convention banning mines. “Together with these mines the times of the Cold War are exploding,” said Col. Sergei Luchina, head of the army’s engineering corps, as the first mines were destroyed at the Shchitkovichi military base. Belarus became a full participant in the treaty this month, but is still seeking funds to help pay for destroying the mines. Canada has agreed to finance 25 percent of the costs, and negotiations are ongoing with NATO while other donors are also being sought, said a Defense Ministry spokesman. (AP 101753 Mar 04)


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